The Earth's global environment--its interrelated climate, land, oceans, fresh water, atmospheric and ecological systems-has changed continually throughout Earth history. Human activities are having ever-increasing effects on these systems. Sustaining our environment as population and demands for resources increase requires a sound understanding of the causes and cycles of natural change and the effects of human activities on the Earth's environmental systems.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program was authorized by Congress in 1989 to provide the scientific understanding necessary to develop national and international policies concerning global environmental issues, particularly global climate change. The program addresses questions such as: what factors determine global climate; have humans already begun to change the global climate; will the climate of the future be very different; what will be the effects of climate change; and how much confidence do we have in our predictions? Through understanding, we can improve our capability to predict change, reduce the adverse effects of human activities, and plan strategies for adapting to natural and human-induced environmental change.